Old San Juan Squares, San Juan

Old San Juan Squares (Self Guided), San Juan

A distinctive feature of Old San Juan is the number of quaint historic squares. Many of them are adorned with beautiful fountains, prominent monuments and intricate sculptures recounting rich history of this amazing city. Check out San Juan’s most popular squares on this self-guided walking tour!
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Old San Juan Squares Map

Guide Name: Old San Juan Squares
Guide Location: Puerto Rico » San Juan (See other walking tours in San Juan)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 6
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.8 Km or 1.1 Miles
Author: leticia
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Plaza Colon (Columbus Square)
  • Plaza de Hostos (Hostos Square)
  • Plaza de Armas (Arms Square)
  • Plaza de la Rogativa (Procession Square)
  • Plaza de San Jose (San Jose Square)
  • Plaza del Quinto Centenario (Quincentennial Square)
Plaza Colon (Columbus Square)

1) Plaza Colon (Columbus Square)

Columbus Square is one of the most important squares in San Juan. Originally known as Santiago Square, back in the 17th century this square literally marked the doorstep to the old town. Encircled by stone walls in 1635-1641, the only way into the city was then through five gates, the centermost of which was Puerta de Santiago (the Land Gate), straddling the sole highway linking the walled San Juan islet to the rest of Puerto Rico by land.

By 1772 the open space adjacent to Puerta de Santiago had taken the shape of Santiago Square, albeit still unpaved at that time and long afterwards. From 1862, several projects had been undertaken to refurbish the square until in 1870 it finally started to take its current shape. In 1893 the statue of Christopher Columbus was installed to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of Puerto Rico, upon which the square was renamed Colón, or Columbus Square.

To the south of the square is a gem of Puerto Rican entertainment culture, the Theater Tapia. Inaugurated in 1824, this lovely piece of neoclassical architecture was initially known as the San Juan Municipal Theater. Over the years, many notable performers have graced its stage. Outside the theater, along Fortaleza Street, there are a number of quaint restaurants and cute little cafes where one can sip some iced coffee outside whilst enjoying the sight of Columbus Square, the symbol of progress and testament of new and old San Juan!
Plaza de Hostos (Hostos Square)

2) Plaza de Hostos (Hostos Square)

Plaza de Hostos is a small landscaped square located near Casa Blanca, just in front of Plaza Dársena. Dedicated in 1998, the square commemorates the famous Puerto Rican educator, philosopher, intellectual, lawyer, sociologist and independence advocate Eugenio María de Hostos, aka “The Citizen of the Americas”, whose beautiful statue, featuring de Hostos in the company of joyful kids, created by José Buscaglia, stands in the center of the square, watching over the cruise ships entering and leaving the San Juan Bay.

Other than this, guests will find here lots of arts and crafts, as well as traditional piña coladas (a must try!) and other locally-made deserts sold from kiosks dotting the area. A nice place to stop after exploring the southern district of San Juan!
Plaza de Armas (Arms Square)

3) Plaza de Armas (Arms Square) (must see)

Arms Square is one of the main squares in San Juan. Over the years, it has changed several names relative to the functions it served. Initially, in 1521, it was called Vegetables Square. Then, during the 17th-19th centuries, it was known as Arms Square, for being the ground for military exercises. Then, by the early 20th century, it was back to Vegetables Square again, and used as a market. Nowadays it is known as Arms Square again.

Arms Square is the city’s de-facto central square, modeled on the classic squares of Madrid and Mexico. Although the square had factually existed for centuries, it was not until 1840 that the city council approved its proper construction, which commenced in 1851. It was then that the four statues made of bronze and oil-coated to simulate marble, representing the Commerce, Industry, Science and the Arts, arrived here. In fact, there were a total of eight statues to be installed, but the other four were lost. In 1872 the original statues were removed and the new marble ones, representing the Four Seasons, put in their place in the four corners of the square.

In 1955 two circular fountains and two lampposts in the center were added. The four statues were then configured in a circular fountain in front of the Palacio de la Real Intendencia on the western side, which houses the Department of State of Puerto Rico.

A highlight on the northern side is the Spanish colonial style Casa Alcaldía – home of San Juan City Hall – built in 1789, with twin turrets resembling those of a sister building in Madrid. A tinkling fountain, seating, shade trees, and a couple of old-school coffee booths make this a good spot for a sightseeing break.

Why You Should Visit:
An important social gathering spot, used for generations, and a popular tourist attraction.

This laid-back space is loved by the locals to buy snacks, watch shows, play dominoes, and chat with friends. Take a seat on a bench to give your feet a break and soak up some of the everyday comings and goings. You can also buy your kids some traditional treats like sesame-seed lollipops or coconut candies.
Plaza de la Rogativa (Procession Square)

4) Plaza de la Rogativa (Procession Square)

Plaza La Rogativa is the most scenic square in San Juan, offering a 180-degree views of the San Juan Bay. From here, you can also get a clear view of the San Juan Gate and La Fortaleza, much as of the El Yunque national forest in a distance.

The name "Rogativa" means "Procession". According to a legend, during the 1797 attack by the British army, the governor of San Juan ordered a "rogativa" by a group of women, led by the bishop, to march through the city streets at night. Started from the San Juan Cathedral, the procession carried torches and crosses, while singing hymns along the way. The British mistook these sights and sounds for the arrival of Spanish Army reinforcement and gave up the attack. Commemorating that event are the four bronze statues in the center of the square.

Due to its historic significance and scenic beauty, Plaza La Rogativa is also popular a spot for wedding ceremonies. If nothing else, come here in late afternoon to watch the sunset over the San Juan Bay.
Plaza de San Jose (San Jose Square)

5) Plaza de San Jose (San Jose Square)

Plaza de San Jose, named after the nearby old church, is a small square sitting on the corner of San Sebastian and Cristo Streets. The square center is marked by the statue of Juan Ponce de Leon, the Spanish explorer best known for being the first governor of Puerto Rico during 1508-1509 as well as for his expedition to Florida in 1513. Ponce de León's finger points to the west, in the direction of his final voyage in search of the Fountain of Youth. The metal for this statue is said to have come from the canons of an English ship destroyed during a failed attack by the British in 1797.

The square is surrounded by historic buildings, such as the San José Church and the Pablo Casals Museum. There are multiple cafes and restaurants all around where you can savor excellent Puerto Rican cuisine.
Plaza del Quinto Centenario (Quincentennial Square)

6) Plaza del Quinto Centenario (Quincentennial Square)

Quincentennial Square is quite modern and was built in 1992 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of the Americas. The centerpiece of the square is a 40-feet tall monument, known as El Totem, designed by Puerto Rican artist Jaime Suárez. El Totem is made of clay brought from all over the Americas to signify the origins of the people inhibiting the continent. Down the stairway from El Totem, at the lower end of the square, is a walk-in water fountain.

The square offers an excellent view of the Old San Juan Cemetery where a great number of notable figures in Puerto Rican history have found their final resting place.

Walking Tours in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Create Your Own Walk in San Juan

Create Your Own Walk in San Juan

Creating your own self-guided walk in San Juan is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Souvenir Shopping

Souvenir Shopping

Puerto Rico was colonized by Spain following the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1493. Among the crafts that followed the Spanish to the island was mundillo, a kind of decorative lace made of wooden bobbins. Over the next few centuries, the mundillo craft flourished on the island and today is one of the most popular local products sought after by visitors.

Being Caribbean, the country also...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.9 Km or 0.6 Miles
San Juan Historical Buildings

San Juan Historical Buildings

San Juan was founded by the Spanish in 1521, which makes it the third oldest European-established capital city on the American continent. Owning to its long history, the old town of San Juan is filled to the brim with heritage colonial buildings.

Chief among them, La Fortaleza is the longest-standing executive mansion in continuous use in America, whereas the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista is...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.4 Km or 1.5 Miles
Old San Juan Walking Tour

Old San Juan Walking Tour

Founded by Spanish colonists in 1509 at a site then known as "Puerto Rico" (Rich Port), San Juan is the third oldest European-established capital in the Americas. In 1521, the words "San Juan" were added to the official name, thus making it "San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico". This was in keeping with the usual custom of christening the town with both its formal name...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.1 Km or 1.9 Miles

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